Indians performance in Chicago prompts plaudits

It’s tough to think of a four-game series going better for the Indians.

It would be tougher to be more impressed with the way the team played and competed and won those four games in Chicago.

Sunday’s shutout followed an improbable comeback win on Saturday which followed a more improbable doubleheader sweep on Friday.

Momentum may not exist in baseball — but confidence does and the Indians should be taking extra carry-ons full of confidence with them as they head to Kansas City.

Early and late comebacks, big hits, an unknown coming through, paternity leave, a shutout, two-out RBI — it all happened and it all went right. And when so much goes right it can’t help but boost the psyche.

Especially since the Indians had to get this done in some very difficult circumstances.

Because of the folly of baseball’s scheduling, the Indians had to fly to Chicago after playing a night game in Baltimore on Thursday. Arrival time: 3 a.m.

But that was Chicago time, which meant they arrived at 4 a.m. on the body clock — after playing four games in a row in the heat of Baltimore and gerrymandering the bullpen to keep enough arms fresh.

A doubleheader on Friday awaited.

Much is expected of the starting pitcher for the first game of a doubleheader. If a team wastes its bullpen in the first game, it has no bullpen for the second — or maybe even for the next day. To manager Terry Francona the only thing worse than losing is losing and burning up a bullpen.

Trevor Bauer started the first game Friday, and for reasons known only to him he decided to pitch from the stretch.  He gave up five runs and didn’t even last one inning.

Francona’s worst nightmare had come true.

Except the players wouldn’t quit. It’s easy to say they shouldn’t, but coming off an early-morning trip and playing a doubleheader, it would be natural to get down after seeing the team fall behind 5-0 in the first.

The Indians scored 19 runs and won by nine.

In the second game, they trailed by three heading into the top of the ninth.

They scored four.

The winning home run was provided by Nick Swisher, a guy who can’t take off a T-shirt without wincing because of a sore left shoulder.

The bullpen had to pitch 11 2/3 innings, the doubleheader lasted seven hours and 53 minutes, but the Indians won twice.

To help the relief corps on Saturday, the Indians called up Joe Martinez, who had been starting in Columbus and was enroute from Norfolk, Va., to Durham, N.C., when he got the call.

Martinez had a grand total of 20 major league appearances before Saturday, and a year ago had just one major league inning.

Lo and behold Martinez threw two shutout innings to get the win — with Swisher again driving in the game-winning hit.

In consecutive nights, Swisher gave closer Addison Reed his fourth blown save, and ended Jesse Crain’s streak of 31 relief appearances in a row without giving up an earned run.

But he was overshadowed by the starter from Columbus who had to rescue the bullpen in Chicago.

Sunday, Francona committed to rest Swisher and red-hot Jason Kipnis (.419 in June), and he carried through with that plan even though he also sent Michael Bourn home to be with his wife, who was delivering the couple’s child. Three of the top four hitters in the lineup did not play in the series finale.

So Justin Masterson pitched a shutout, and the Indians moved into a first-place tie with Detroit. That means little at this point of the season, and Francona said as much when he told the media after Sunday’s win that “there’s a little bit of baseball left to play.”

But as of Sunday the Indians are one game past halfway through the 162-game season. They have 43 wins, and the Tigers coming to Cleveland this weekend. Earlier, they won 18-of-22, then stumbled and lost 16-of-20 — and lived with many in town looking around the corner for the expected collapse.

The Indians ignored the noise, and won 14-of-19.

It’s too easy to call them ‘team streak’ though.

It also wouldn’t be fair.

Because a streaky team does not show the intestinal fortitude, gumption and heart the Indians showed the last four days.

Which was more fortitude, gumption and heart than have been seen in these parts in quite some time.